FINDINGS IN RESPECT OF THE
JUDICIARY, THE RULE OF LAW AND
The Death Penalty
Abuse of Emergency Powers
The Commission finds that state of emergency powers have proven
to be a mighty weapon in the hands of successive governments and have been used
to silence opposition, suppress activism and clamp down on political dissent.
President Momoh took matters to the bizarre by declaring a so
called “State of Economic Emergency” in 1987, which licensed his officials to
abuse the property rights of the people.
No law authorises the continued detention of persons in safe or protective custody detention. The Public Emergency Regulations of 1998 under which the President was authorised to order the detention of persons into protective custody was lifted in 2002. The continued detention of several persons in safe custody detention is unlawful and in contravention of the Sierra Leone Constitution. Their detention is in clear violation of the rule of law.
The Commission finds that the continued practice of safe custody
detention brings the Government of Sierra Leone into disrepute. There is no
place for “safe custody detention” in a just and democratic society. The
Commission regrets that civil society and the many representatives of the
international community in Sierra Leone have failed to protest the use of safe
custody detention and have failed to utilise the writ of habeas corpus in
respect of those held.
Powerful members of society are able at times to select judges to hear cases. This has brought the judicial process into disrepute.
The judicial appointment process has been abused by successive governments. Several politically motivated appointments have been made by all post-independence governments. This has severely compromised the independence of the judiciary.
The lack of civil society representation on the Judicial and Legal Service Commission undermines the independence of that important body.
The lack of security of tenure of judges during the rule of the APC regime permitted the then government to interfere at will with the judiciary. The independence of the judiciary was systematically destroyed. The current practice of employing retired judges on a contract basis also compromises their independence.
The removal of all measures of financial autonomy from the
judiciary by the APC regime in the 1970s served to impoverish the administration
of justice. This remains the state of affairs in the judiciary. Without
budgetary independence, the judiciary has been unable to
The majority of people do not have meaningful access to the courts. This renders the rights enshrined by the Constitution largely empty.
The outbreak of war caused almost all judges, magistrates, law officers and private practitioners to flee the provinces. For several years during the war, there were only two places in the provinces, Bo and Port Loko, which had magistrates’ courts operating. Many people resorted to extra-judicial methods to solve their problems.
Access to affordable legal representation in Sierra Leone is a serious problem. Most Sierra Leoneans are unable to pay for the services of solicitors. As a result many people are forced to languish in prison cells and police lock-ups for inordinately long periods.
Corruption is a perennial problem in the judiciary. It pervades
all levels of the judiciary.
The Office of the Attorney-General lost its independence and the
perception of impartiality when it was fused with the office of the Minister of
Justice by virtue of the 1978 Constitution. The Commission finds it regrettable
that this state of affairs was confirmed by the 1991 Constitution and indeed
persists today. Under this legal regime, the discretion of the Attorney-General
cannot be free from political influence.